Background: I have stubbornly British teeth. From ages five to seventeen I had some form of orthodontia in my mouth and at age nineteen I had two root canals. My teeth are angry. I take care of them and sing them sweet sweet love songs before brushing them every day and still they retaliate! I sing them songs of joy and all they sing back are malicious tunes of pain and debauchery! Heathen bastards!
Anyway, my sister works as an office assistant for a dentist and snuck me in for an appointment on Friday, September 22nd, 2000. That's when it all began.
Author's Note: Some of this may be fictionalized thanks to sweet sweet Vicodin.
Day One: The dentist gives me an examination and gasps in horror. "Your teeth are going to fall out of your head if I don't do something right now," he says, and I spit out a superfluous molar as if to say, "Yeah, right." He aims the x-ray machine at my head eight times before deciding to actually take pictures of my rotting teeth.
Day Two: Teeth cleaning. There's some national law requiring oral hygenists to be adorable. She polishes my teeth and hands me a big bag of tooth care paraphernalia. I come back later in the day for my first root canal on a top left tooth which is Too Terrible To Be Named. The dentist begins to express his glee over the fact that I will be in his office for days at a time. The "Sunny" radio station is worse than the sound of the drill. Is there nothing to silence that which truly pains me?
Day Three: The dentist breaks down and buys a portable CD player for me, his most treasured patient. I survive a gum line molar extraction and the completion of yesterday's root canal to the soothing sounds of Lambchop. Because of the way my nerves split in my teeth, I am a medical freak. I also received a cool bone graft assembled from my own blood and a secret ingredient that makes it go down smoother. I cannot drink from a straw, lest my stitches be ripped from my body. I cannot smoke, lest my gums become unhinged. I must rinse with salt water, lest my wound become infected. No word yet on whether or not, former lovers' criticism aside, I can perform oral sex.
Day Four: The dentist removes a bone spur from his overzealous graft and starts on my lower right molars. One root canal today. The dental assistant has no idea who Superchunk is, and she doesn't like them. I watch as they vacuum the decay out of my molar. The liquid that comes out is yellow and then brown.
They also took time today to take pictures with a digital camera. The dentist says it's for posterity. I see them printed in some sort of Big Book of British Smiles in the near future. The dental assistant uses dental mirrors to pry my lips back. Bach is being piped in. I feel like I'm in a lost scene from William Goldman's rewrite of A Clockwork Orange.
Day Five: Good news at last! Only one root canal today (on the other molar) and two of my wretched front teeth get decay removed and resin attached as a temporary measure before the crowning occurs in December. I no longer look so much like someone who dates exclusively within his own family. I smile with half of my mouth for the rest of the day.
Day Six: My dentist's office assistant calls three times in four minutes at seven in the morning to cheerfully inform me that they can work on me today. I hate phones. I hate being roused out of sleep by phones. I resist the temptation to arm myself when my sister stops by to wake me up and haul my ass off. And what's gets done today, you ask? A post build-up. One. I should've stayed in bed (or, more accurately, couch).
Day Seven: Five teeth get a stunning amount of attention today. A post build-up in a molar, some restoration work on two front teeth, a filling on a bicuspid, and build-up work on another bicuspid. My dentist actually went to lunch near the end so another of his colleagues could work on me. My regular dentist's assistant places her warm hands on my cheeks and tells me not to open my jaw if it hurts. I can't tell whether or not she's flirting with me. On my way out, the office assistant hands me two appointment slips for two different dentists. I feel like a picture of a roadside accident, zipped up and e-mailed from dentist to dentist. Do forwarded messages normally feel this much scorn?
Today, incidentally, is my sister's birthday. Chewing at her celebratory dinner doesn't hurt, but the ice water is murder on this morning's work. I feel more pain in the repetitively bruised spots where they've injected the Novocaine than in my actual teeth.
Day Eight: Short day today. Just some restoration work on my canines. Actually, I have no idea what occurred today. It's all a blank, which makes me think something far far worse has actually happened.
Day Nine: The doozy. The car I was borrowing refused to start on Thurdsay morning, so I had a minor reprieve. Today, however, I was back in full swing with a vengeance. Not much done in my regular dentist's office. Some scraping, talk of future dental plans and conspiracy, et cetera.
I take a short lunch and then head across town to another dentist's office for a crown lengthening and a wisdom tooth extraction. The crown lengthening went about as well as someone scraping your gums away from your teeth can go, but the wisdom tooth was another matter entirely. It was impacted horizontally under the tooth in front of it, so what they had to do was saw off the crown of the tooth, pull that out, and then somehow work the two roots out separately. I felt very little pain, but a lot of pressure. It took them about an hour or so just to take out the tooth. As the dentist removed it, piece by piece, he'd display it, sanguine and glistening, above me. It felt like I had been socked in the jaw for the entire weekend. When people ask what happened to me, I tell them I met the other boyfriend. The dentist also applied something called a perio-dam, which is a putty-like substance that will annoy me for days, but hopefully keep the surgery site clean.
Day Ten: I've begun to show up at the office before the dentist. I feel a small bit of ownership there: my room, my chair, my drill, my tortured screams. Actually, they're more like tortured chokes. Today I received three fillings, all on teeth the dentist thought were going to go to root canal. I listened to the live Morphine and the new Radiohead while trying to ignore the fact that something was triggering my gag reflex, and it felt an awful lot like a drill bit or an unaccounted tooth or something. Halfway through a filling, the dentist adds more cotton rolls and I start choking. "Oops, too many," he says, and starts plunking them out one by one until there's nothing left in my mouth and I sit bolt upright choking until the invading piece is fully expectorated. This tiny orange-brown sphere lands on a tissue in front of me, and the dentist asks if I've had my tonsils removed.
Somewhere in my memory, at least thirteen years back, I remember entering a doctor's office and then, at some point, leaving. The only words I remember from this entire visit are, "Now you can eat all the ice cream you want!"
"I think so," I reply, but I'm still not entirely convinced by my internal hazy vignette. The dentist explains that sometimes tonsils can generate calcium deposits that have to be coughed up from time to time. I think I've had these foul spheres of death before, but they've never tried to asphyxiate me.
I am cat boy. Raaawrrrr.
Day Eleven: Some restoration and filling work on my lower front teeth. The dentist doesn't get to one tooth because of the periodontal dam still in place from when my wisdom tooth was pulled, but with that minor exception, there are no black spots in my smile. I've noticed myself smiling with my teeth, something I haven't done since I was six years old. For some reason, the anesthetic wasn't quite working on one tooth, so I had to grit my teeth (a tough thing to do when your mouth is held open by a bite block) and take it like a man. It wasn't so bad.
Before today's work, the dentist and I were discussing literature (I'm currently reading Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein's Brain). He recommended I read The River Why and I strongly suggested he read White Noise. It's strange -- one never thinks of a dentist as someone who spends his spare time reading books. Before today, if I were pressed to imagine such a thing, I would've thought his rec room was filled with rusty metal tools that he'd stick into cats for a good laugh. Dentists are people too. This is messing with me more than the pain killers.
Day Twelve: My five day vacation from dental misery is over, and it's back to work. I have an early appointment for a root canal with my fourth dentist in as many weeks. He's a gentle man -- older, and his waiting room has many books and pamphlets contaning Bible stories. This worried me a little or, rather, kicked up my atheistic paranoia. "God will be working on my teeth," I thought.
I shouldn't have been worried. While this man scraped out excess infected pulp from a bicuspid, he talked religion and the end days with his assistant, who was more of a typical annoying Christian than he was. The dentist was a perhaps the most stoic Christian I've met: resigned to accept that God's plan is in effect and all the violence and suffering in the world is for a reason. Sounds good to me. He said I had bad teeth due to bad genetics, which I agreed with, so he's not some anti-Darwinian nut. He quoted from Ecclesiastes a lot, which is my personal favourite book of the Bible, mainly because it's so damned cynical. In fact, he seemed, from the few hours I spent with him, like someone who actually adhered to the principles of Christianity, a seeming rarity within that particular belief system.
Right after my morning appointment, I rush over to my first dentist's for a post and core on the same tooth. Ick. Everyone at that office is surprised to see me because it's been so long (only a mere week, friends!). I don't know how they'll deal with the fact that I'll be gone on the 23rd.
At the end of the day, I'm cashing in prescriptions from both dentists for different pain pills, my logic being this: I'm out of pain medication, and, seeing as how I saw two dentists today who were both doing horrible things to the same tooth, I might as well refill my prescription twice. The Christian dentist gives me Vicodin, but my regular dentist opts for Tylenol-3, seeing as how "Vicodin can be addicting." As he tells me this, I try not to rip his throat out through his eyes, as that would only seemingly prove his point.
Day Thirteen: A simple, early morning appointment at the Christian dentist's for another root canal. I'm still shaking off the fog of morning and Vicodin when I leave, so I don't remember much, aside from talking about fate and the Augustinian definition of predestination.
I can drive on Tylenol-3. Tylenol-3 is my friend.
Day Fourteen: The Big Doozy: I arrive at my regular dentist's office at seven thirty in the morning. Three quadrants of my mouth are worked on today. My morning is a blur of words I don't completely understand, even though I've been hearing them for weeks, being thrown around: Viscastat, Consepsus, perio-detector, buccal, mesial, facial. A post and core is done on the root canal completed yesterday, then restoration and filling work on some front, lower right teeth, and then, as prelude to the grand finale, the dentist clears out some decay from an old root canal while pulling a rabbit out of my mouth and sawing his assistant in half.
And then he tells me I need another wisdom tooth pulled. So, having long accepted any sort of beating my mouth might take, I drive up to the third dentist's office at noon and read as much of Jose Saramago's Blindness as I can until he's ready. While he's in my mouth, he does another crown lengthening. This tooth, seeing as how it's upright and would've grown in correctly anyway, comes right out, but it will still feel like I've been socked in the jaw for the next couple of days.
And this is pretty much the end. I have a couple more post-op appointments, which will most likely be uneventful, but that's about it. I'll go home to Massachusetts, get the rest of my wisdom teeth removed, and then come back in a few months for crowns. My life for the next few months will not consist of anything at all related to the field of dentistry, and that's all right with me.
I feel free now, somehow. If anything else, I can now node about something else. Praise Jebus!